Categorical perception of newly learned faces,Visual Cognition, 4 (15), 420-467.

Five experiments investigated identification and discrimination of faces. Stimuli were blends of two faces generated with a morphing algorithm. Two same-gender and two different-gender pairs of faces were tested. Experiment 1 (identification) estimated the point of indifference along the morphing sequence, and the associated differential threshold. Experiment 2 (discrimination, ABX) demonstrated that novel faces are perceived categorically. Identity was a more important factor than gender in generating the perceptual categories. Experiment 3 and 4 (identification) demonstrated that categories are generated progressively in the course of the experiment and depend on the range of morphs tested in any one condition. Confidence ratings (Experiment 5) showed that the multidimensional space where faces are represented can be collapsed onto a single dimension. Response probabilities and response times for Experiments 1-4 were predicted simultaneously by a counting model postulating that quanta of discriminal information are sampled independently from the stimuli.

Abnormal adaptive face-coding mechanisms in children with autism spectrum disorder,Curr Biol, 17 (17), 1508-1512.

In low-level vision, exquisite sensitivity to variation in luminance is achieved by adaptive mechanisms that adjust neural sensitivity to the prevailing luminance level. In high-level vision, adaptive mechanisms contribute to our remarkable ability to distinguish thousands of similar faces [1]. A clear example of this sort of adaptive coding is the face-identity aftereffect [2, 3, 4, 5], in which adaptation to a particular face biases perception toward the opposite identity. Here we investigated face adaptation in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by asking them to discriminate between two face identities, with and without prior adaptation to opposite-identity faces. The ASD group discriminated the identities with the same precision as did the age- and ability-matched control group, showing that face identification per se was unimpaired. However, children with ASD showed significantly less adaptation than did their typical peers, with the amount of adaptation correlating significantly with current symptomatology, and face aftereffects of children with elevated symptoms only one third those of controls. These results show that although children with ASD can learn a simple discrimination between two identities, adaptive face-coding mechanisms are severely compromised, offering a new explanation for previously reported face-perception difficulties [6, 7, 8] and possibly for some of the core social deficits in ASD [9, 10].

Influence of saccadic adaptation on spatial localization: comparison of verbal and pointing reports,J Vis, 5 (7), 16 11-13.

Under conditions of short-term saccadic adaptation, stimuli presented long before saccadic onset are perceptually mislocalized in space. Here we study whether saccadic adaptation can also affect localization of objects by pointing. We measured localization performance during fixation and after normal saccades and adapted saccades, for a bar presented well before a saccadic eye movement, for both pointing and verbal localization, under open-loop conditions generated by a transient dark period about 300 ms after the presentation of the bar. During fixation and normal saccade, localization performance for verbal report was veridical, while for pointing there was an overestimation of the target eccentricity respect to gaze, in agreement with the idea of separate representations of space for action and perception. During saccadic adaptation, there was a significant shift of both pointing and verbal report localization in the direction of adaptation with similar spatial selectivity for both tasks. These results indicate that saccadic adaptation induces a similar re-calibration of the action map as well as of the perceptual map, suggesting a common site of operation in the transformation from eye-centered to gaze-centered coordinates.

Motor coordination in children with congenital strabismus: effects of late surgery,Eur J Paediatr Neurol, 5 (11), 285-291.

BACKGROUND: Strabismus is one of the most common visual disorders in infancy. While there is a great attention on the effects of the timing of surgery as to the development of binocular vision, little is known about the possible influence of congenital strabismus on perceptual-motor and more generally, on neuromotor development. AIMS: Aim of this study was to investigate perceptual-motor and motor coordination abilities of 19 children with essential congenital esotropia who underwent a late surgery (after 4 years), compared to 23 age-matched controls. METHODS: Children were tested using the Movement Assessment Battery for Children (Movement ABC) that were performed both 1-week before surgery (T1) and about 3 months (+/-2 weeks) after surgery (T2). RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: At T1, abnormal or borderline results were found in more than half of the children with strabismus, as opposed to only about 17% of the controls. At T2 none of the children showed abnormal Movement ABC total scores and there was no difference in global scores between the study and the control group. The two groups also did not show any significant difference in individual items of the movement ABC with the exception of those assessing ball skills. Our results suggest that surgical correction of strabismus, even when performed after the 4th year of life, appears to be effective in improving perceptual-motor and motor function.

Neural mechanisms for timing visual events are spatially selective in real-world coordinates,Nat Neurosci, 4 (10), 423-425.

It is generally assumed that perceptual events are timed by a centralized supramodal clock. This study challenges this notion in humans by providing clear evidence that visual events of subsecond duration are timed by visual neural mechanisms with spatially circumscribed receptive fields, localized in real-world, rather than retinal, coordinates.

Spatiotopic selectivity of BOLD responses to visual motion in human area MT,Nat Neurosci, 2 (10), 249-255.

Many neurons in the monkey visual extrastriate cortex have receptive fields that are affected by gaze direction. In humans, psychophysical studies suggest that motion signals may be encoded in a spatiotopic fashion. Here we use functional magnetic resonance imaging to study spatial selectivity in the human middle temporal cortex (area MT or V5), an area that is clearly implicated in motion perception. The results show that the response of MT is modulated by gaze direction, generating a spatial selectivity based on screen rather than retinal coordinates. This area could be the neurophysiological substrate of the spatiotopic representation of motion signals.

The contribution of prefrontal cortex to global perception,Exp Brain Res, 3 (181), 427-434.

Recent research suggests a role of top-down modulatory signals on perceptual processing, particularly for the integration of local elementary information to form a global holistic percept. In this study we investigated whether prefrontal cortex may be instrumental in this top-down modulation in humans. We measured detection thresholds for perceiving a circle defined by a closed chain of grating patches in 6 patients with prefrontal lesions, 4 control patients with temporal lesions and 17 healthy control subjects. Performance of patients with prefrontal lesions was worse than that of patients with temporal lesions and normal controls when the patterns were sparse, requiring integration across relatively extensive regions of space, but similar to the control groups for denser patterns. The results clearly implicate the prefrontal cortex in the process of integrating elementary features into a holistic global percept, when the elements do not form a “pop-out” display.

The effect of optokinetic nystagmus on the perceived position of briefly flashed targets,Vision Res, 6 (47), 861-868.

Stimuli flashed briefly around the time of an impending saccade are mislocalized in the direction of the saccade and also compressed towards the saccadic target. Similarly, targets flashed during pursuit eye movements are mislocalized in the direction of pursuit. Here, we investigate the effects of optokinetic nystagmus (OKN) on visual localization. Subjects passively viewed a wide-field drifting grating that elicited strong OKN, comprising the characteristic slow-phase tracking movement interspersed with corrected “saccade-like” fast-phase movements. Subjects reported the apparent position of salient bars flashed briefly at various positions on the screen. In general, bars were misperceived in the direction of the slow-phase tracking movement. Bars flashed around the onset of the fast-phase movements were subject to much less mislocalization, pointing to a competing shift in the direction of the fast-phase, as occurs with saccades. However, as distinct from saccades, there was no evidence for spatial compression around the time of the corrective fast-phase OKN. The results suggest that OKN cause perceptual mislocalizations similar to those of smooth pursuit and saccades, but there are some differences in the nature of the mislocalizations, pointing to different perceptual mechanisms associated with the different types of eye movements.

The lowest spatial frequency channel determines brightness perception,Vision Res, 10 (47), 1282-1291.

This study investigates the role played by individual spatial scales in determining the apparent brightness of greyscale patterns. We measured the perceived difference in brightness across an edge in the presence of notch filtering and high-pass filtering for two stimulus configurations, one that elicits the perception of transparency and one that appears opaque. For both stimulus configurations, the apparent brightness of the surfaces delimited by the border decreased monotonically with progressive (ideal) high-pass filtering, with a critical cut-off at 1 c/deg. Using two octave ideal notch filtering, the maximum detrimental effect on apparent brightness was observed at about 1c/deg. Critical frequencies for apparent brightness did not vary with contrast, viewing distance, or surface size, suggesting that apparent brightness is determined by the channel tuned at 1 c/deg. Modelling the data with the local energy model [Morrone, M. C., & Burr, D. C. (1988). Feature detection in human vision: a phase dependent energy model. Proceedings of the Royal Society (London), B235, 221-245] at 1c/deg confirmed the suggestion that this channel mediates apparent brightness for both opaque and transparent borders, with no need for pooling or integration across spatial channels.

The role of perceptual learning on modality-specific visual attentional effects,Vision Res, 1 (47), 60-70.

Morrone et al. [Morrone, M. C., Denti, V., & Spinelli, D. (2002). Color and luminance contrasts attract independent attention. Current Biology, 12, 1134-1137] reported that the detrimental effect on contrast discrimination thresholds of performing a concomitant task is modality specific: performing a secondary luminance task has no effect on colour contrast thresholds, and vice versa. Here we confirm this result with a novel task involving learning of spatial position, and go on to show that it is not specific to the cardinal colour axes: secondary tasks with red-green stimuli impede performance on a blue-yellow task and vice versa. We further show that the attentional effect can be abolished with continued training over 2-4 training days (2-20 training sessions), and that the effect of learning is transferable to new target positions. Given the finding of transference, we discuss the possibility that V4 is a site of plasticity for both stimulus types, and that the separation is due to a luminance-colour separation within this cortical area.